|Mark Buehrle, going right after a hitter. May 7, 2008. (Icon/SMI)|
We’ve all heard this bit of conventional baseball wisdom, quoted here from an interesting article on “Little things that win big ball games” by college pitching coach Jim Mason:
There is a direct relationship between the quickness with which a pitcher works and his effectiveness…. The pitcher who works slowly will often cripple his defense. Baseball demands a high level of concentration, and this is very difficult to do behind a pitcher who works at a slow pace. The mind tends to wander behind deliberate workers, such as pitchers. Coaches should try to speed up such workers.
Last May, Dan Fox took a look at the adage in an article at Baseball Prospectus. Dan was restricted to using the best guesses of the BP writers as to the fastest- and slowest-working pitchers, though he did check those guesses against the average length of the games started by the pitchers. Dan did not find any significant relationship between the pace of the pitcher and the defense behind him.
This year, however, we have new data at our disposal. MLB Gameday PITCHf/x data includes a time stamp for over 95 percent of pitches that have been thrown in the majors in 2008. This time stamp is down to the second and records when the pitch was in the air. We can use this data to determine how quickly every pitcher in the majors has worked this year.
I already noted some of the fastest and slowest pitchers in a post to THT Live. I don’t think it surprised anyone to see Mark Buehrle at the top of the list or Rafael Betancourt at the bottom. A few Oriole fans remarked to me that Steve Trachsel must be among the slowest workers, but he clocked in at only a couple seconds below average, at 24.1 seconds between pitches.
Here are the data for all 30 teams, including the fastest and slowest worker on each team (minimum 10 innings pitched). The time listed is the average time in seconds between pitches in an at-bat. Pitches that were thrown more than a minute after the previous one were excluded under the assumption that there was a non-pitcher-related game stoppage.
Team Average Rotation Pen Fastest Time Slowest Time Athletics 20.7 19.9 22.7 Joe Blanton 17.6 Alan Embree 25.3 Cubs 20.7 20.3 21.7 Jon Lieber 17.8 Bob Howry 26.5 Phillies 20.9 20.1 22.5 Clay Condrey 19.1 Tom Gordon 25.4 Nationals 20.9 20.5 21.9 Jason Bergmann 17.7 Jesus Colome 23.8 Padres 21.1 21.0 21.3 Randy Wolf 19.5 Josh Banks 28.1 White Sox 21.1 20.9 21.7 Mark Buehrle 17.2 Bobby Jenks 23.9 Reds 21.2 21.1 21.3 Mike Lincoln 19.6 Edinson Volquez 23.2 Cardinals 21.6 20.8 23.0 Kyle Lohse 19.9 Jason Isringhausen 27.4 Angels 21.6 21.5 21.8 Ervin Santana 20.0 Francisco Rodriguez 24.1 Braves 21.7 21.2 22.3 Chuck James 19.3 Chris Resop 25.7 Marlins 21.8 21.3 22.6 Scott Olsen 19.0 Taylor Tankersley 25.5 Pirates 21.8 21.5 22.5 Zach Duke 20.0 Tyler Yates 26.0 Mariners 21.8 21.6 22.3 R.A. Dickey 17.9 J.J. Putz 27.9 Orioles 22.0 21.6 22.8 Adam Loewen 19.9 Chad Bradford 24.6 Giants 22.2 21.0 24.5 Matt Cain 19.7 Tyler Walker 27.0 Brewers 22.2 21.4 23.9 Ben Sheets 18.4 Guillermo Mota 26.4 Astros 22.2 21.8 23.2 Roy Oswalt 19.3 Jose Valverde 28.0 Mets 22.3 22.0 22.9 John Maine 20.3 Jorge Sosa 25.0 Dodgers 22.4 21.4 24.0 Esteban Loaiza 18.4 Joe Beimel 26.6 Royals 22.5 21.8 24.3 Brian Bannister 20.0 Joel Peralta 29.0 Diamondbacks 22.8 22.2 24.4 Doug Slaten 20.5 Juan Cruz 25.6 Rockies 22.8 21.7 24.8 Franklin Morales 20.7 Kip Wells 26.3 Rangers 22.8 22.1 24.0 Sidney Ponson 19.5 Joaquin Benoit 26.2 Tigers 22.9 22.4 23.9 Justin Verlander 20.4 Denny Bautista 27.6 Twins 22.9 22.1 24.2 Glen Perkins 20.2 Joe Nathan 26.8 Blue Jays 23.1 22.9 23.7 Jesse Carlson 19.5 Jason Frasor 26.6 Rays 23.2 22.4 24.8 Andy Sonnanstine 19.7 Dan Wheeler 27.3 Indians 23.4 22.3 26.1 Aaron Laffey 20.2 Rafael Betancourt 32.0 Red Sox 24.4 23.6 25.9 Justin Masterson 18.9 Jonathan Papelbon 28.4 Yankees 24.6 24.4 24.9 Darrell Rasner 21.3 LaTroy Hawkins 26.7
On the list of slowest pitchers, you’ll notice a lot of relievers; on average, relief pitchers take almost two seconds more between pitches than do starting pitchers. Also, American League East fans, you may be forgiven for wondering why your games drag on.
At this point, it’s probably worth noting the text of Rule 8.04:
8.04 When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.”
The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.
Of course, we measured the time between pitches, not the time to pitch after the pitcher gets the ball from the catcher. We also certainly captured some events like the umpire calling time or pickoff attempts. Nonetheless, I think it’s a fair guess that Rafael Betancourt isn’t sitting in his hotel room every night memorizing Rule 8.04.
This information is all well and good and makes interesting fodder for conversation, but does working quickly have any benefit to the pitcher? On a team level, do the teams that pitch quickly, like the A’s and Cubs, have better defenses?
As measured by the percentage of batted balls they turn into outs, some of the quicker-pitching teams are indeed among the best defensively, but if there is an overall relationship between defensive efficiency and quick pitching in this data, it’s a very weak one.
What about for individual pitchers? Let’s take a look at the batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for both starters and relievers. BABIP is basically the opposite of defensive efficiency, and these graphs show the rate for each pitcher relative to his team. However, in addition to base hits, I’ve included “reaching on an error” and “fielder’s choice with no outs” as marks against the defense.
For starting pitchers, there doesn’t appear to be any relationship between defensive support and the time between pitches, and although there might be a correlation for relievers, it’s very weak. However, not all pitchers may be consistent in how quickly they work; maybe they work slower when they get into trouble, or they don’t have a good feel for their stuff on a given day. What if we ignore the identity of the pitcher and just look at BABIP compared to the time elapsed between the previous pitch and the pitch that was put in play? I’ve binned the pitches into five-second groupings:
For the bulk of the pitches thrown between 11 and 50 seconds after the previous pitch, there doesn’t seem to be much of an effect. However, at the extremes, the pitches thrown within 10 seconds after the previous pitch have a notably lower BABIP (.281), and the pitches thrown more than 50 seconds after the previous pitch have a much higher BABIP (.366). This finding is definitely noteworthy, but further investigation is needed to determine how much of the disparity is due to defensive play and how much is due to other situational differences.
The error bars on the graph illustrate the random error due to sample size. There are almost assuredly some additional systematic errors—for example, I did not control for the quality of the hitter or pitcher. I also didn’t look at groundball/flyball splits or control for the percentage of strikes that a pitcher threw. These are possible avenues for further investigation.
Finally, it probably makes sense to look at the data on the level of the at-bat rather than the pitch. If a pitcher works slowly to a batter, or the batter extends the at-bat by taking and fouling off pitches, perhaps the fielders start to sit back a little.
Again, there may be some effect at the extremes: At-bats taking 15 seconds or less have a BABIP of .314, whereas at-bats taking longer than two minutes have a BABIP of .334.
As I mentioned, there are additional ways to sift this data. One of them that I did look at briefly is the presence of baserunners. In this case, BABIP was about 10 points lower with the bases empty (.323) than with runners on (.333). Here’s how that looks for the BABIP vs. time elapsed in the at-bat.
I don’t intend this study to be the final word on whether fielders play better behind pitchers who work more quickly; it appears that such an effect might exist, but if so, it is small. Mainly, I wanted to let the community know of the existence of the pitch time data and to offer (to the best of my knowledge) the first official peek at it. It is a resource that could be used to answer other questions: Do quick workers get more strike calls? Do pitchers take longer between pitches when they are tired? Does a pitcher’s pace indicate anything about which pitch type he is most likely to throw? Etc.
References & Resources
Thanks to Sportvision and MLBAM for providing this data and to Marv White for his response to my questions about it. It’s pretty cool to find something like this that has been lying around the PITCHf/x data set for two months without me even realizing it!